This is not about Donald Trump.
Actually, it is, kinda-sorta, because…well, you know, everything is now — at least for the next four years (or until he’s impeached) as he shares his every world peace-threatening mind fart, one infantile Tweet at a time. (So sad!)
For many, Trump’s 2016 presidential election provides a new, and breathtakingly-low water mark – like, the Red Sea after being parted-low — for how bad things can be (or, at least, seem.)
Toss a few shovels-full of dirt into the grave of 2016 for the deaths of dozens of truly important, brilliant, thoughtful, creative and influential people and yes, it’s pretty easy to crown this year as one of the worst in recent memory.
But not for me.
To be perfectly clear:
Seeing Trump elevated to the highest position in the free world was heartbreaking, mind numbing, logic twisting and spirit crushing for me and millions of others who are deeply concerned about how his election will impact human relations and the state of our Union.
And to lose such cultural luminaries and world figures as (among many others) Muhammed Ali, Gene Wilder, Garry Marshall, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince (PRINCE!!), Merle Haggard, Elie Wiesel, Antonin Scalia, Shimon Peres, Fidel Castro, George Martin, Harper Lee, John Glenn – and yes, even “Mrs. Brady,” Florence Henderson –all in one calendar year defies even the stoutest sense of reason and reasonability.
This, on top of the usual assortment of terror, trauma and tragedy, inhumanity, incivility and infidelity with which we at the so-called top of the food chain typically batter each other.
Not to mention the Killer Clown Craze!
Yet, 2016 was a good year for me, for a simple, yet-profoundly important reason.
As with most good things in my life, it (mostly) wasn’t about me.
Because in 2016, I saw my oldest child, whose hand and heart I held first and first held at the start of her life, start a new life.
A life as a bright, talented, thoughtful, insightful, loving, empathetic and happy young adult, now supported by a partner who has put Emma on a pedestal (though the pedestal can never be high enough, in my paternal view.)
It’s hard to explain the feeling of knowing that you had a small part in making your child truly happy. Kind of like trying to explain the feeling of loving pets to someone who has never had a pet. Both experiences are nonsensical to anyone who has not lived them. My first born is happier than she’s ever been. For as long as it lasts – and I hope and believe and trust that it will last forever — I was there to see that joy at its first radiant blooming.
I saw my second child, who’s never met a hill too high to try climbing, claw her way up a mountain nine-fingered.
Olivia finished college, earning an Associate’s Degree in Hospitality and Restaurant Management. For many people her age, this wouldn’t be, shouldn’t be, and isn’t such a huge accomplishment.
Except that she started her college career aiming for an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts. She was well on her way, 10 weeks from the finish line of a 20-month accelerated program that allowed her no breaks and very little time for much else besides school and a part-time job.
Then she cut the holy hell out of her right index finger – a key digit for, you know, holding knives and other kitchen utensils important for the making of food.
She bled more than she cried. At least initially. Until she realized — after a surgery to repair ligament, nerve and tendon damage and a second surgery to clean up the first surgery – that her culinary dreams had to be put on a back burner, probably indefinitely.
Many would have gotten sad or angry or depressed. Livie – for whom the dictionary definition of “grit” should say, “See Olivia” – got bored.
Six months later, she enrolled in a new school, taking a new direction, facing new challenges. Soon after, she called me. “Dad, I still like cooking, but I kind of like running the restaurant better,” she said. I knew right then that she had beat them all.
I saw my wife overcome several significant personal challenges and finally — Finally! — get some shard of the professional responsibility, recognition and appreciation she so richly deserves.
Did I say finally?
The personal hurdles included, most prominently, a major surgery that kept her out of work for eight long weeks. As she has been from the moment she started “stalking” me to get me to ask her out, she was a model of patience, peace and determination in her recovery.
Coincidentally, the professional accolades followed soon after Kellie returned to work. Understand that Kellie is part of the first wave of women for whom a job outside the home was not only allowed, but expected. Instead she delayed her professional aspirations for family, friends, spouse and kids for most of her young adult life. So it caused a big wrinkle in her universe when she returned to work full-time a few years ago in her chosen field, rather than working just any old job to bring home a paycheck.
She was hired for one of those “you-have-the-responsibility-but-not-the-title-pay-or-authority” type jobs that often fall to employees who work harder and are more dedicated than the official job description calls for. To say she flourished dulls the word’s sheen.
However, this year management took note. Two raises and a title bump followed, proving what I’ve known for more than 30 years: Kellie is the kind of talented, hard-working leader that any company would be proud to call its own.
And I couldn’t be happier or prouder.
Not for myself. Clearly I had little to do with any of their successes. But for them, whom I love. They are the better for their vision, commitment and courage in the face of adversity, and for the success they have earned through hard work and perseverance. And I am better by association. Just as a rope made of bundled cords is tougher than the individual strands, I am more resilient as a part of them, as they are as a part of me.
The many “big” things that surround us are indeed important, but in the end the “small” things are what really matter. I cannot fix The World Around Me. But I can make sure that the world around me – my family, my friends, myself — is strong. Happy. Fulfilled.
Often, the greatest glory comes in shining the beam on someone else. Humbly subjugating, rather than vainly celebrating oneself. So that everyone shares some of the reflected light.
This vital Life Truth helped me navigate the acidic haze of what, by many yardsticks was a terrible year portending worse things to come. Everyone from the smallest child to the President of the United States would do well to learn, remember and practice it.
Oops, I said this wasn’t about him…